Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. Thanks for tuning in to episode 97 of Missions on Point. This is number 10 in a series of 14 on church based missionary training. Today's episode deals with giving up personal rights. This is a broad topic and has application really for every Christian, particularly for those in ministry and those in missions ministry. We'll take a look at some observations from First Corinthians nine. First Corinthians nine is often used as a theme or a support for the concept of contextualization. This passage can be used as support for the concept of contextualization along with a number of other passages and examples from Paul's life and the Book of Acts.
However, I submit that the bigger context of this chapter is one of personal rights. It has to do with priorities versus personal rights. Here's what the Apostle Paul writes in First Corinthians 9:19 and following, "For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew in order to win the Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law though not being myself under the law, that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law, I became as one outside the law, not being outside the law of God, but under the law of Christ that I might win those outside the law. To the weak, I became weak that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel that I may share with them in its blessings."
He goes on in verse 24. "Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we and imperishable, so I do not run aimlessly. I do not box as one beating the air, but I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified."
These verses certainly have some application in the area of contextualization. However, I submit that the thrust is for personal rights. And what Paul is saying here is that he gives up personal rights for the sake of the gospel, and that's what we want missionaries to do. That's what we want ministers to do. In fact, that's what we want Christians to do. All of our church-based missionary training is aimed at enabling the missionary candidate to have realistic and biblical expectations of their ministry on the field. I maintain throughout my teaching that two of the major downfalls of missionaries that cause them to leave the field for preventable reasons are first, unrealistic expectations and secondly, lacking of a solid accountability relationship with their sending church.
One of the great antidotes to this preventable attrition because of unrealistic expectations is this concept of giving up personal rights. So what do we mean by personal rights? Unfortunately, the concept of personal rights legally, is hugely affected by our understanding as Americans, for instance, or the political and cultural environment of the western world. In a missionary context, I think of personal rights as the individual's thinking that they have independence to make decisions and to have certain liberties and to protect themselves in certain ways that are based on the way they grew up or how they feel about themselves or this circle or bubble in which they live. People who have a really strong sense of personal rights feel like it is inappropriate or rude at the very least for someone else to tell them what to do or how they ought to conduct their life, or things that affect their independence of action and decision and movement.
The point that Paul is trying to make in First Corinthians nine when he says in verse 19, "For though I am free from all I have made myself a servant to all that I might win more of them." Means that the constraints of the gospel and how he presents himself limit his own independence and freedoms and personal rights in such a way as to maximize effectiveness for the sake of the gospel. Earlier in first Corinthians nine, Paul mentions this idea of being supported for gospel ministry and that those who benefit others spiritually have some sort of inherent right, even explained and exemplified in the Old Testament to receive physical contributions and goods and wellbeing from those to whom he's ministering spiritually. And yet he says he doesn't exercise that privilege or right or expectation in order to minister the gospel so that he may give it freely.
There is a great exercise of grace because of the cross of Jesus Christ and the gospel with which missionaries offer the gospel freely to those who are their heroes. They also limit the exercise of their natural personal rights in order to do so. So good missionaries, missionaries who understand this about personal rights, give up personal rights and expectations and are not offended when others seem to impinge on their personal rights, so that they may freely express and proclaim the gospel to others and in doing so win some to salvation in Jesus Christ. Let's give a few examples. And they seem kind of simple or almost illogical when taken out of context in life on the mission field. Some missionaries feel like they have a right to having a bug free house even when they're living in the tropics. Those missionaries don't last very long because that is a totally unrealistic expectation.
They do not actually have a personal right to have a bug free house, but they think they do, and if they make it a big deal, they're not going to stay very long. Lots of missionaries feel that they ought to have a right of privacy, and that just doesn't work very well in a culture and an environment in which people are in each other's lives all the time. They may not have a genuine sense of privacy, and that privacy extends to decision making and even things like how their family operates. When you're in a different culture, your family must operate differently. And I would add especially so when Christians at home through their churches and through their personal financial support of the missionary to be on the field would expect missionaries to live differently and not the same as they do back home.
They're paying the bills, therefore, whatever right of privacy you might have in how you conduct your life and what your concerns are, what are the factors that are impinging on your ability to work and live there? All are part of the responsibility and interest of those that are paying the way and you have no personal right to exclude them from peering behind that curtain, so to speak, to see what your life is really like because they're paying the bill. You don't have a personal right to privacy the same way that you might have in your life at home. In the states. The missionary must guard themselves against having expectations of personal rights even in their relationships with their neighbors and their fellow believers among the nationals with whom they serve. Those dear brothers and sisters should have the same kind of status and input into the direction of the ministry as the missionary has.
Just because he came from the West or he has more education or more finances behind him, doesn't mean that he gets to say everything about the direction and strategy and methodology of the ministry without conferring with and deferring to those who know best about how it operates in their culture. This wasn't such a problem in generations earlier in missionary life because missionaries just expected that the mission agency and the field leadership and the team they were on would dictate so much about their personal life and they weren't even given any choices about those decisions. However, nowadays, missionaries have this in-grown culture from the West that says they ought to have the right to make a whole range of decisions about their life and their family, and no one has a right to interfere with that. And I would say biblically that is an incorrect idea.
This idea of personal rights means that you are going to give up your personal rights for the sake of the gospel, and that extends to almost every single area of your life. There are a couple of books that deal with this. The most historic book is one by Mabel Williamson called Have We Know Rights. It was originally published in 1957 and it dealt quite frankly with these concepts of missionaries holding out their personal rights rather than giving them up for the sake of the ministry. There's a modern remake of it in a way that's called My Rights, My God, by Robin Wells published around the year 2000, 2001. These books and the concept is that an individual Christian does not actually have complete independence to choose anything about their life in any way they should go. They belong to Christ.
Christ paid for your sins, but he actually has lordship over your life. And if he wants you to go serve in another place of the world in which in the process you have to give up a substantial portion of your personal rights in order to serve well and serve fruitfully there long term, then he has the right to do so. And you don't have a right to hold out.
This changes the landscape of old arguments swirling around in your heart and in your head, which want to confront people with your rights and your perspective and your way, because you're giving that up. You're saying, I'll do what it takes, apart from sin, to conform to the avenue in which people can understand the gospel. Let them be offended by the gospel. Let them not be offended by me. So often the primary cause of disunity and tension among God's workers in the church, even here at home as well as overseas in missionary work, and then ultimately in that national church are people who are holding forth their rights to hold their position and argue it strongly and offend everybody else in the mix. And it creates great disunity, which God abhors, scripture speaks against. We need to strive to maintain unity in the bonds of peace, even if it costs us something in our personal rights.
This is a hard lesson and a hard discussion, but it needs to be had with Christian leaders all over the place, particularly with missionary candidates before they get to the field and they get in the fire of conflict with other people on the field. To understand Paul's position in First Corinthians chapter nine, is that "I'm willing to give up my rights and live as other people live for the sake of the gospel so that I may win some." His illustration at the end of First Corinthians nine is using this idea of a race and a prize and a runner. Note that the comparison is if you don't discipline yourself in such a way that you could yourself be disqualified.
May God help us to give up our personal rights so that we could see Christ exalted and the gospel proclaimed in such a way to win others and not be an impediment to their belief. May God be glorified in missionaries that give up their personal rights for the sake of the gospel.
Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. I trust that you'll find more help and resources on the website, propempo.com. Please preferably consider supporting this ministry. Now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.
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